Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 21, June 1977


HUNTLY recently celebrated 100 years as a coal mining centre. The first mine began commercial production in 1876 and during the next 48 years 7,760,673 tons of coal was produced by the old underground method. Then with the increased use of electricity and oil for power and heating, the mining of coal was drastically reduced. During the following 49 years, total output from both underground and opencast mines was only 695,084 tons.

Coal is once again in demand owing to the huge increases in cost of imported oil and the need to use coal for the generation of electricity. Now in Huntly two new coal mines are being constructed in order to tap some of the estimated 300 million tonnes of coal which lie beneath farmlands situated between Huntly and Mercer. One at Huntly West to serve the new power station - another East of Huntly to serve commercial coal users. As in all coal mining areas, Huntly has known its tragedies. The worst disaster being in September 1914 when an explosion occurred killing 43 of the 62 men who were working the mine. In 1976, despite all modern precautions, two fatalities have occurred at the Rotowaro underground mine.

During a recent visit members of the Paeroa Historical Society were welcomed by the Mayor of Huntly, Mr. Robin Wright, who lived for some years in Paeroa. They were then escorted about the town by representatives of the Huntly Society to view the new developments. The Project Manager in the Compressor building at the new Huntly West mine explained the work in progress. With the aid of maps and diagrams he showed us a plan of a "shield" which is a steel cylinder especially designed for the work. It gives protection to the worker and is used during the course of dewatering the soil, necessary before mining can proceed. Two "drifts", over a mile long are being constructed and driven at an angle of one in four, through the layers of silt and sand until solid rock is reached where normal mining technique can be employed to produce the coal from beneath the rock. The "shield" can be removed and reassembled where necessary.

One "drift" is for the movement of men and materials and the other for the passage of the coal which is carried by conveyor belt to the power station also now in the course of construction. A large shaft provides ventilation to the workers. The work is being achieved through the co-operation of engineers, mining technicians and the cement experts - as well as mining safety, the aim is to keep the area perfectly safe for future use and to preserve the environment as much as possible. The mine could have been worked in the older manner but extra efforts are being made for efficiency, safety, and work appeal. When the project is completed the land will be replanted with the same flora as was there originally.

We visited the Carbonisation works where Carbonettes and Ray Carbon are produced, the latter for use in the steel mills at Glenfield, then saw the ground work of the Power Station on the banks of the Waikato River, visited a display of old photographs and samples of rock, coal, and clay for bricks, also mining gear both old and new. To complete the day there was a film show.

So it would seem that Huntly's future is bright. Coalmining, while still hazardous, has changed considerably since the pick and shovel days. No longer do miners fire a charge and shovel the coal into skips. The new mechanised miners do it all and a new breed of miner - a highly skilled artisan - is emerging.